When I look back, I can see several examples from my career where a good leader was critical to bringing a shift in the team culture from low-energy, negative emotions to one of high-energy, forward-looking, positive emotions. While the leader brought in focus, renewed strategies, and motivations to achieve higher goals, they also emphasised ‘how’ to achieve results, a big part of which was about instilling some great well-being habits.
A lot has changed about leadership over the years. While the focus has been mobilising and inspiring teams to achieve organisational results, many leading organisations have rewritten the story. Great leaders help build organisational brands, and organisations slowly realise that great leaders not only help in producing results, but also in sowing critical seeds of health and wellbeing for employees, which in turn goes a long way in creating an energetic, motivated, and productive team.
What do leaders do to ensure a continuous focus on wellness, but in a very ‘passive’ manner? Here are some key practices seen:
Mid-week breaks: The World Economic Forum outlines this as one of the practices for building mental wellness. It’s not that many organisations have not tried it out, but at times it simply dies out if the rigour is missing. A great leader would voice this out to the team and then role model it – which is how “wellness Fridays” or “no-meeting Wednesdays” become a part of the team culture.
Healthy habits: One of the leaders I knew would have a couple of boxes of almonds, walnuts & raisins and would open them as soon as a team meeting started. When I think back, this was a great passive method of inducing good snacking habits.
Another leader spoke to the team about having 80 per cent of team offsites without alcohol (now a well-known carcinogenic). While there was an initial reaction to this, the team was given a choice to adopt it and utilise team budgets for other useful aspects including contribution to a cause.
Leaders hence look for ways to slowly have a positive impact on the health of their team members.
Walk-and-talk meetings: Many leaders prefer walk-and-talk meetings, rather than the usual sit-in-the-room. This is another great practice quoted by the World Economic Forum. The best leaders prefer conversing outside of physical office premises – more in the open and closer to nature. This increases more time spent outdoors and hence more fresh air, which is simply good for health.
Improved working spaces: Great leaders strive to ensure conducive working spaces as a lot of organisations choose to head back to the office today. For example, many leaders are realising that open-space offices are a thing of the past, and many organisations are shunning these as the noise and distraction do not seem to increase productivity.
Working style preferences: The best leaders adapt themselves to learn and understand new working style preferences – especially of those across generations. This can encompass a huge realm: where one likes to work (office/home / both), how much one likes to interact with others when at work, how much planning one has, etc. The best leaders normalise these: if one team member has a problem with another’s style, the leader would encourage speaking about it, and then also coach the person to understand why style would interfere in the delivery of work.
Listening effectively: As difficult as it may be, the best leaders are the best listeners. Sometimes a team member is going through a crazy time in their personal life and all the leader has to do is lend an ear to understand and empathise. Just the intent and effort to listen shows a caring leader.
I got your back attitude: Great leaders put team members at ease by expressing ‘Hey, I got your back’. This feeling helps in reducing stress for any team member, especially when preparing for an important meeting or dealing with a tough stakeholder.
Open communication: The one factor which differentiates the best leaders from the rest. A lot about culture rests on open lines of communication, debating health topics, voicing repeatedly the right behaviours and right habits, and being reachable as a leader whenever needed.
The final step a great leader takes is to role model the right wellness habits for the Management team of an organisation, and coach the other leaders on some of these practices. Great leaders tend to be infectious; by using practices like those given above, leaders build organisations to last, and take them from good to ‘great’!